KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysian authorities Monday gave a Muslim burial to 21 human trafficking victims, believed to be Rohingya Muslim refugees, found in shallow graves in jungles bordering Thailand.
The 21 were among 106 bodies found last month in 28 jungle camps in northern Perlis state, a remote area bordering Thailand that trafficking syndicates used as a transit point to hold migrants and refugees. Most were believed to be from Myanmar's persecuted Rohingya minority and impoverished migrants from Bangladesh.
The victims were buried in a village ceremony in neighboring Kedah state, with Islamic officials performing burial rites.
Kedah Chief Minister Mukhriz Mahathir said investigations showed the victims died of starvation and illness.
The bodies of 19 men were placed in simple wooden coffins each and buried together in a huge grave, while the bodies of two women were laid to rest in an adjacent grave, he said.
The bodies of the other victims will be buried once autopsies are completed, he said.
The discoveries in northern Malaysia followed similar revelations earlier May in Thailand, where police unearthed 36 bodies from shallow graves in seven abandoned camps on the Thai side of the border.
The discoveries have exposed hidden networks of jungle camps run by human smugglers, who have for years held countless desperate people captive while extorting ransoms from their families. Most of the victims were part of a wave of people who fled their homelands to reach countries like Malaysia, where they hoped to find work or live freely.
Human rights groups and activists say the area along the Thai-Malaysia border has been used for years to smuggle migrants and refugees, including Rohingya Muslims.
In many cases, they pay human smugglers thousands of dollars for passage, but are instead held for weeks or months while traffickers extort more money from their families. Rights groups say some have been beaten to death, and The Associated Press has documented other cases in which people have been enslaved on fishing boats.